A Letter From Shahan

antiprop8march

Dear family and friends:

I hope you will read what I’ve written. It is my somewhat raw reaction to the passing of Proposition 8 in California and the exciting night after. It would mean a lot to me if you would.

This has been a painful time for me, and I wanted to let you know how I felt as a gay Californian to be discriminated against and have my status as a full citizen diminished by the majority. Proposition 8 will rewrite the California constitution to enshrine bigotry against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

I celebrated when the California Supreme Court found that our constitution protects all Californians equally and provides all of us the right to marry. I was unhappy—but not very fearful—when Prop 8 made it to the ballot. I was sure that society had changed enough. An African American was looking like he might be our next president.

I donated to the No on Prop 8 campaign—as did my brother, who has supported me so much, both personally and politically. When the campaign began to struggle due to lies—debunked by the LA Times and other newspapers—I decided I had to get more involved. I helped edit a letter written by our gay Armenian group, a letter which was published in the Armenian Reporter.

And I volunteered. After I cast my ballot on election day, I stood for three hours 100 feet outside a Los Feliz poll speaking to voters on their way in and handing out fliers. Of the 60 or so I reached, all but two were extremely supportive. I felt great and, buoyed by the polls that showed Prop 8 would be defeated, I joined friends and other volunteers at the No on 8 party that night at the Henry Fonda Theater in Hollywood.

The mood was jubilant at first, especially when California polls closed and Barack Obama was declared the winner. Along with over a thousand people, I watched the president-elect’s speech. The mess Bush has made of our country over the last eight years suddenly seemed reversible. And it might not take decades, like I’d thought. He might be able to do it in one or two terms. His speech was that inspiring.

But the night quickly turned sour. After the speech, my friends began receiving text messages telling us that our side was losing by five to seven points.

I knew I hadn’t done enough. I could have worked so much harder on the campaign. I could have spoken to all of you. But I didn’t.

The balloon was popped. My first reaction was desperation, and I couldn’t stay in the crowded theater anymore. A friend and I decided to drown our sorrows at Denny’s with hot wings, seasoned fries, onion rings and a deep-fried chicken sandwich, with plenty of ketchup, ranch, and blue cheese dressing on the side. Not the smartest choices.

That night, I had trouble falling asleep. And when I finally did, I couldn’t stay asleep. I woke up around 4:50 in the morning, just as the sky was brightening. The days before had been cloudy, but this one looked clear. I made myself some coffee and hoped that things had changed overnight.

They hadn’t, and for the next six hours, I stayed online, constantly hitting the refresh button, scanning as many news sites and blogs I could, and hoping for good news. It didn’t come, and I quickly understood that the entire state was lost. Even the majority of Los Angeles County voted yes on 8.

Here’s how I felt: sad and angry. Simple as that, but so deeply felt that it made me numb, so numb that for several hours I barely felt alive. I felt degraded. Less human. California had decided that I, as a gay man, don’t deserve to be considered as an equal. The love that I feel is not as significant as the love you feel.

And the more I thought about the election, the worse I felt. The majority of California’s voters had elected an African American President. The majority refused to pass a proposition that would put pregnant teenagers at risk of violence. The majority passed a proposition for the more humane treatment of chickens on California farms. And the majority told me that I was not worthy of equality.

I was unable to appreciate the historic election of the nation’s first Black president. The jubilation—or relief—that you all felt election night and the day after, that maybe you still feel, was lost on me. I felt none of it.

I voted for Obama. I dared to hope that our country would elect him. But I was robbed of sharing that joy with you because of California’s majority.

Add to that the fact that one of the main turning-points of the campaign came when the Yes on 8 side began airing commercials using lies—trust me, parents always have to sign permission slips—about what children will learn in schools if Prop 8 were not passed. The subtext was vivid and clear: I, as a gay man, am inherently dangerous to children. I pose a risk to your sons and daughters simply by existing, simply by wishing to marry one day and perhaps have my own children.

This is where it gets dark. I didn’t eat—not a bite—until 3:00 PM. I felt dehumanized, and I turned it in on myself. Luckily, my friends—especially a psychiatrist friend in Chicago—and my family were a support.

And so was the gay community. I learned there would be a protest that night, and I knew I had to go. I ate. I commiserated with a lesbian friend. I organized a small group—just three of us—and we carpooled to West Hollywood, expecting simply to hear some speeches and grieve, collectively, with maybe a thousand people.

What happened next was honestly the most rewarding, liberating, exhilarating and meaningful experience of my life thus far. My friends and I finagled prime spots on San Vicente between Melrose and Santa Monica, standing on a low wall near the stage. After an hour of lively speeches from GLBT leaders, shouts and chants from the massive crowd—of which we could see only a thousand or two. Helicopters flew overhead, flashing us with their spotlights, and TV cameras and digital cameras recorded everything. Then it was done. We started walking out.

The pain I’d felt earlier was gone. The loneliness—so familiar to me growing up in a society that told me I was wrong for simply being who I am—was also gone. My anger was lessened and focused. Time to go back home?

That’s what we thought. But as we walked north to the intersection of San Vicente and Santa Monica, we noticed thousands of people in front of us—the total would eventually be estimated to be 10,000—marching north up the hill to Sunset. We followed, chanting, clapping, beaming with energy. Everyone was taking pictures. Hundreds of signs were floating along above us. A little farther up the slope, I turned around to look behind us. There were thousands following.

This was all unplanned. The protest was supposed to be a rally, not a march.

We stopped traffic—most of the cars honking in support. Drivers and passengers held their hands out to the crowd, slapping skin with total strangers.

We brought Sunset to a standstill as we marched from San Vicente all the way to Crescent Heights, supported by most of the people who we’d caused to get stuck in traffic. Valets looked on, surprised. People came out of bars to see the spectacle. We chanted—Equal rights! What do we want? Marriage. When do we want it? Yesterday!—and kept on going.

Even wealthy matrons and young rich kids who were eating al fresco at Sunset Plaza restaurants chanted back, clapped, took pictures, and look on in awe. And just before we got to Crescent Heights, we saw a group crowded around one car: Lance Bass, from the boy band N’Sync, was gladly posing for photos with the protestors from the driver’s seat of his SUV.

We marched south, past apartment building with people staring out, waving. A car filled with probably-straight young women was stuck in the traffic; they stood up out of their windows, yelling their support, urging us on. Persian men in Porsches, Latinos in SUVs, Asians in Lexuses, almost everyone seemed to be on our side. We turned on Santa Monica and continued on all the way back to where we’d started, the crowd never losing its energy. Even a group of older Russian immigrants at a restaurant on a corner smiled, waved, and cheered us on.

I could hardly believe it. Adrenaline had been coursing through me for three and a half hours.

Dear family and friends, I know that I haven’t been able to capture it as well as I’d like—not even a tenth of the excitement, spontaneity and solidarity we all felt seems to be in these words.

I’m writing this on November 5th at 11:30 (well now, after rewrites, it’s 12:30). I still feel immensely buoyed by the fact that, despite the tyranny of the majority, we will not give up, we will not sit down, and we will not tolerate being treated as anything less than complete human beings. I just can’t express it well enough, at least not yet.

Right now, I feel even happier than I did when I listened to Barack Obama give his acceptance speech. My eyes welled up at moments when he spoke, and I cried today. But now I can’t and won’t.

I know that you all care for me and respect me. I know that you all support equality. But I wanted to send this to you in the hope that you will do more than just support me.

I hope that you will discuss the passage of Prop 8 with people you know who may have voted for it. Tell your reluctant parents. Tell your unenthusiastic coworkers. And next time you hear someone say that he doesn’t support marriage for gays and lesbians—or that she just doesn’t understand why civil unions aren’t enough—please stand up for me.

Please tell him or her that thirty-two years of loneliness, isolation and stigmatization is thirty-two too many. Please explain how deeply I am hurt by Proposition 8. Please tell everyone that separate is not equal, and explain how deeply committed GLBT people are to the struggle to gain the same rights you enjoy.

And if that’s not enough, please explain that GLBT kids growing up these days—and especially after this election—are being sent the same hateful messages that I heard when I was young: They are wrong. They don’t have your respect or dignity. They don’t deserve love.

Thanks and love,

Shahan Sanossian

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~ by Thom on November 8, 2008.

2 Responses to “A Letter From Shahan”

  1. that is fucking AMAZING and powerful.

  2. I echo Ulla. That is one of the most powerful opinion pieces I have ever read. I am with you Shahan, with you 100%. I’m not American but I will stand up for you if Proposition 8 is ever mentioned over here. Thank you for sharing your heartfelt story.

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